The Federal Government’s approach to the Inland Rail project confirms two things about the National Party – they don’t respect expert advice and they aren’t willing to engage with Australians on complex issues.
Inland Rail has the potential to unlock enormous economic benefits in the regional communities along its route and revolutionise freight movements in this country.
Labor supports Inland Rail – we invested almost $1 billion in grant funding when in government to get the project going.
As it stands, Labor has a number of serious concerns about the project.
We need Deputy Prime Minister McCormack and his National colleagues to start listening to affected communities and make sure they get Inland Rail right.
In the last Parliamentary sitting, Labor asked the Deputy PM why so many farmers and communities are feeling alienated by his approach to Inland Rail.
How did the Minister respond?
The Deputy PM acknowledged there were concerns and noted the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) was consulting.
Rather than outlining the Government’s responses to concerns, the Deputy PM said “but, we don’t live in a banana republic”.
Holding fears about the future of your farm or your community doesn’t mean you’re against the project on the whole.
The Deputy PM’s non-response demonstrates exactly why Labor is right to initiate a Senate inquiry into the Inland Rail project.
We proposed broad terms of reference and encouraged the rural, regional affairs and transport committee to take its time to listen to concerns from all sides and propose recommendations to improve the management of the project.
I have heard serious concerns about the lack of transparency and consultation associated with the route selection process undertaken by the ARTC and endorsed by this government.
I’ve heard from farmers in the Central West of NSW concerned that large sections of farms will become inaccessible, affecting business viability.
In the Condamine Floodplain in Queensland, there are real worries about how the track can be maintained and that the track could exacerbate future flooding events.
It’s concerning to hear that the current track alignment in parts of NSW and Queensland deviates from recommendations in 2010 and 2015 expert studies.
In Brisbane, the Inland Rail currently terminates 38km south of the port at Acacia Ridge. There does not appear to be a plan to connect to the Port of Melbourne nor to harness already existing intermodal freight hubs along the route.
Labor does not want to see farmer pitted against farmer, and community against community on this vital economic development project.
There are also serious concerns around the transparency of the Inland Rail’s financial viability.
In 2015 the Inland Rail Implementation Group chaired by former Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson found “the expected operating revenue over 50 years will not cover the initial capital investment required to build the railway—hence, a substantial public funding contribution is required”.
But the Deputy Prime Minister refuses to disclose how and when the ARTC will deliver a commercial return on the Federal Government’s $8.4b equity injection.
It’s not good enough to bluff and bluster through. When Government spends more than $10b on a once-in-a-generation transport infrastructure project, the Australian people deserve to know how it will be funded.
The Senate inquiry comes at an important time in the project’s implementation.
The inquiry will also examine how Inland Rail connects with other freight infrastructure, and how it links with the national freight and supply chain strategy.
Jobs in construction stemming from the project will also be a focus, as we must maximise the use of Australian manufactured content and boost local employment along the route.
For more information or to make a submission to the Senate Inquiry visit www.aph.gov.au and search for “Inland Rail”.
This Opinion Piece was published in Track and Signal magazine’s November 2019 edition.